Friday, December 17, 2010

This Year's Charities I Support

Whew, all the year end contributions are done.  This year's recipients - deemed worthy based on my research and my personal charitable priorities, include:

Human/People Based:  I like to support the charities that help people in places and situations where no one else will, which use money efficiently to provide life saving care, and which are not religiously affiliated.  Doctors Without Borders and International Rescue Committee do a great job; both are 4 star charities per Charity Navigator.   If you give before 12/31, your contribution to IRC will be matched. Kiva is an interesting charity where you can make a micro-loan to someone of your choice and if they pay as agreed, re-loan the money to someone else when repaid.  It's a great way to make a direct difference in someone's life.

Environment/Habitat Conservation:  I look for charities focused on preserving the planet, protecting wildlife corridors, and conserving animal habitats wherever possible.  Many of these overlap a bit with wildlife/animal focused charities.  Nature Conservancy is a favorite (though 3 stars) and I give to them monthly.  National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) is a four star charity dedicated to environmental protection.  This year I added Ocean Conservancy (3 stars) as well.  Rainforest Alliance (4 stars) has a triple matching contribution until the end of the year, and does a lot of work on behalf of rainforests worldwide, including a program I like that helps rate travel companies and their environmental policies.  Sierra Club (4 stars) is another long time favorite, offering cool trips as well as doing lots of great environmental work.  Of course, close to home, there is the Idaho Conservation League (3 stars), a new charity for me this year, focused on conservation issues within my state.


Animal Conservation and Advocacy:  Wildlife is my number one priority, and the conservation thereof, but of course domestic animals need protection too.  Domestically, I give to Animal Legal Defense Fund (4 stars), lawyers who advocate to use and change the law to protect animals.  They help when overworked prosecutors can't handle cruelty cases, and they provide resources to cases that might improve the state of the law.  I also support my local Idaho Humane Society, providing necessary animal management and care.  Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (3 stars) has a matching gift through the end of the year, and runs an animal sanctuary that is nationally known, as well as focusing on no-kill shelters.  Farm Sanctuary (3 stars) is a new charity for me this year, focused on helping improve conditions of animals suffering in factory farms and taking in farm animals in need.  African Wildlife Foundation has long been my favorite of favorites since African animals are my absolute favorites and I adore Africa.  A four star charity focusing on both wildlife and land preservation,  I give to them throughout the year.  Defenders of Wildlife (3 stars) focuses on endangered species protection and ran a creative program to compensate ranchers for livestock lost to wolves when wolves were reintroduced.  National Wildlife Federation (3 stars) has some great wildlife trips and does some good work, though I admit I am annoyed at all the "freebies" they have (wrapping paper, cards, labels, etc.) instead of focusing on conservation.  World Wildlife Fund (3 stars) also offers interesting trips but focuses on animals and environmental protection.  Wildlife Conservation Society (4 stars) works on habitat preservation as well as species conservation.  Save the Elephants does elephant research in Samburu, and I have a special relationship with them because I saw an elephant born and they helped me identify the family he was born into and visit him again 18 months later. 

Lesser Known Animal Charities:  Although these are generally not rated charities, I have some experience with them personally or believe that they are worth contributing to.  Ewaso Lions is a lion research project based in Samburu, Kenya and run by a lion researcher I had the pleasure to meet in Kenya and have kept in touch with (she has an interesting FB page too!), so I give a little bit monthly to hopefully help further her efforts, which I know to be worthwhile.  I give monthly to sponsor a hectare of land in Virunga National Park in DR Congo to be patrolled for snare removal and to support the officers working there to protect mountain gorillas.  I can't safely go visit in Congo and support their efforts, as I can the similar efforts in Uganda and Rwanda, and these gorillas desperately need protection.  Congo is the third and final area in which these creatures live, and donations directly help pay rangers who put themselves on the line - and lose their lives sometimes for the gorillas, so the very least I can do is support their efforts financially.  Cheetah Conservation Fund recently got rated for the first time on Charity  Navigator and did not fare well, but I know that Dr. Laurie Marker with the organization has done so much for cheetah conservation, including a pioneering guard dog program in Namibia, I am not willing to withdraw any support...yet. They often have a year end matching program for donations, including this year.


I Fund Them Because I Use Them:  I support Boise State Radio because I love public radio and listen to it nearly every day.  I also give to Charity Navigator because I use and rely on their ratings and think it is an effort worth supporting.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Giving - during the "Season of Giving"

After my first trip to Africa, I got a lot more serious about giving to charities.  I realized that, even if my student loans were not all paid, my retirement account not fully funded, my savings goals not yet fully realized, etc., etc., etc. - by living in America I have advantages that millions of people in the world will never have.  So do you.  Even if you are not wealthy, you have so much more than so many.  Giving a few dollars really does matter.  And, we tend to take things for granted like running water, electricity, etc. that so many people don't have.  Not to mention access to medical care, etc. Americans truly have amazing opportunity - and so do most people in other developed countries.  It's easy to forget how privileged we are.  When I went and saw people living where there were no jobs, no infrastructure, no banking system, no access to credit, no clean water, no housing, no food - people laying by the side of the road, erecting sticks and paper as shelters from the sun or rain, or just laying there because they had nothing else to do and no food and no energy (and sometimes no clothing), it changed my perspective - permanently.

I used to give to charities now and then when I got a solicitation, but I didn't investigate them that carefully or give that much.  I didn't think about my overall goals and what I wanted to support.  So when I got back from my first trip to Africa, I sat down an evaluated what I wanted my contributions to go towards, and developed a plan to free up some money for charitable contributions (canceled magazine subscriptions, canceled my cable package, etc.).  Originally I picked 12 charities and gave to one a month, a set amount I freed up to make available for contributions.  Eventually I modified that plan so that I have a few charities I give to every month, and several others that I give to annually pr bi-annually, depending on finances.

I research charities as well, to ensure that they are using their funds for the cause, not salaries and marketing, etc.  Although there are some causes I really believe in, some of the charities that aim to further that cause are not worthy of a contribution because they are too disorganized or inefficient.  It does matter;  every dollar counts and how it is used matters because you want the maximum amount to go to what you care about, not 10 cents out of every dollar you give.

If you want to research charities, there are a few good sites to do so.  I like Charity Navigator best.  However, you might get additional information from Give.org, the Better Business Bureau's website to evaluate charities.  Another evaluator is Guidestar.  In addition to researching how they use the money, I determine whether a charity has a privacy policy so they don't share my address if I ask them not to.  Otherwise, you get 5,000 solicitations from every charity in the universe.

For me, wildlife and the preservation and conservation of wildlife is my top priority.  Along with that is the need to preserve wildlife corridors and natural lands in their natural state - conserving rainforests, protecting biodiversity, protecting the oceans, allowing wildlife to migrate and reach other breeding populations, preventing development of natural resources so that some remain protected.  Another goal is promoting animal welfare and moving towards better treatment of animals, including promotion of spay and neuter programs, animal rescue and welfare groups, and groups that assist animals in emergency situations.  There are always going to be people who are helping other people - but sometimes the animals get forgotten.  They are my priority.  That being said, I also think the most vulnerable humans on the planet need and deserve assistance.  I am not very sympathetic for those who have had opportunities they have thrown away, so personally I prefer to focus on those who suffer due to circumstances beyond their control, and those who need aid most and are most often ignored.  I selected a few charities that I think do a good job of targeting the world's most vulnerable people and assisting in a meaningful way.  Also, personally, I refuse to give to any charity which is religiously affiliated, as I have observed far too much waste in many such organizations and I have found that my priorities are too divergent from theirs even if we share some common goals, in most cases.  Finally, I try to support charitable organizations that I benefit from personally by using their services (like NPR, for example).

In addition to giving monthly or annually, I revised my estate planning documents to give to charities on a larger scale, when I no longer need my assets.

I would encourage everyone to develop your own personal giving plan - even if it's only a dollar a week you can set aside - that's $52 a year you can give to a charity, and that makes a difference.  So does $25.  So does $5.  There are also ways you can make your money go a little farther, besides researching before giving.

First, ask the charity not to share your name so you are not inundated with mail, and ask them not to send you mailings either.  They generally mail asking for more money once you give - but if you tell them you will give regularly but NOT to send mail, it saves printing and mailing costs and saves you aggravating additional requests too.  Second, you can turn down the "free gifts."  They are not free and every dollar spent on them is less to spend on the cause.  Watch for charities that send you stuff you don't ask for - address labels now and then, ok, but if they are always sending you calendars, wrapping paper, other "free gifts" you didn't ask for, remember that is all money they are not spending on the cause.  Ask them not to send it and realize charities that do that are spending resources on that type of marketing so if it is excessive you might consider another charity.

Other great ways to make your contributions go farther are to watch for "matching donations" which often happen at the end of the year or at some point when the charity gets a donation for matching grants.  Many charities have a Facebook page or email list that will notify you of these options without wasting mailing costs and paper.  I like to wait to donate to the charities I give to annually until they have a matching drive and then double my contribution.  Many employers also have matching grants to certain charities, so especially if you work for a large company, look into that.  You can also shop online by linking through Goodshop or igive, which donates a portion of your purchase to the charity of your choice.  Many sites also offer search engines that give one cent per search to charity.  And of course, many charities offer a credit card that a portion goes to the charity rather than miles or cash back for you.

Aside from outright donations, there are other things you can do to give.  You can ask that donations to your favorite charity be made in your name instead of birthday, holiday or wedding gifts.  You can suggest that your office donate to a charity rather than spend money on a holiday party - donate to a cause you agree eon instead and have a potluck celebration on the cheap.  Donate your unwanted items to a charity.

When you travel you can pay attention to ensure you are supporting local jobs where you are going and that your travel company is environmentally responsible.  Many international flights allow you 70lb of checked luggage at no charge but you often can't take or don't need that much on your journey, so take extra supplies to donate to the local Red Cross or other charity int he country you are going to.  You can easily donate 40lb of used clothing or medical supplies this way.  Responsible travel companies will help you and facilitate your donation to a local worthy charity at your destination.

There has to be at least one cause you really believe in.  So even if you only start with one -start somewhere!  Almost every American can afford to give at least a little something, and there are millions in the world who have nothing to give.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wise Old Mollie

This is a photo of Mollie on her 16th Thanksgiving.  It is her second with me.  Before that she spent 5 years with my mom, and before that, over a month at the shelter after being abandoned by her family at 9 years old.  She was going crazy at the shelter, though she'd been taken out for walks.  When she realized she was getting in my car to leave, she looked at me as a personal savior.  Whenever I visited her at my mom's, she was thrilled to see me.

When she moved in with me after my mom went to assisted living, she showed no signs of looking back.  She welcomed the chance to lived with other dogs and cats.  She was overweight, and she had a few infections....but those problems were quickly taken care of, and she is now a very healthy weight and moving much better.

She likes to feed the horses with me.  She likes to steal toys from the other dogs even if her teeth are too old to chew them.  She loves to lay looking out the front door and bark at people and dogs who pass by, and the mailman.  She loves to go for rides in the car, go camping, and lie by the fire.  She still has a very high quality of life despite her age and her arthritis (for which she has a daily med).

She is a good dog.  I am glad to give her a good final home, and I will be interested to see how much more time she has.  I hope for her sake the end is in her sleep, dreaming of the treats she still enjoys.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Night Owl in Borneo

We saw two of these brown night owls on a night drive in the Danum Valley, but I can't recall their formal name now.  I was just glad to get a photo in focus; my camera is not great at night.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

It Really Is A Long and Winding Road

This is a photo of the access road to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley, Sabah.  It really is a long and winding road, but a surprisingly good one as well.  The diversity of life in the forest this road runs through is amazing.  Luckily, it's not open to the public, so it takes researchers and tourists only and is tightly controlled.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Snorkeling off Manutik


I had a day to kill at the end of my Borneo trip so some of my group and I went to a small island near Kota Kinabalu named Manutik.  It was nice - sandy beaches, a little store for snacks, and not too many people.  The snorkeling off the beach was very good.  Lots of fish, some coral.  I really enjoyed it and it was a great last day.  Although I didn't have an underwater camera for photos of the fish, I saw clownfish in huge anemones, including some pink rather than orange ones.  There were lots of colorful fish I've had to work much harder to see before.  These photos are taken from the dock, where tons of small fish were all over the place.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Misty River in Borneo

Whenever I see photos of a misty forest, I imagine it is cool there.....but in Malaysia I learned that this is not the case.  Although there were wonderful mists in verdant green forests, it was hot....but the beauty was still there.  This photo doesn't capture it, but serves as a reminder of a gorgeous place with gorgeous wildlife.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Combed Agamid Lizard

 We ran into this combed agamid lizard in the Danum Valley in Borneo.  There were two fairly close together, and they didn't mind posing for photos.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Amazing Roots, and Ancient Burials in Borneo

 One morning on a long hike in the Danum Valley, a primary growth rainforest in Borneo, we went to an ancient burial site.  Supposedly the indigenous rainforest people of the past were animists who believed that the higher you are placed, the easier you will get to heaven.  At the top of a peak there was a wall of rock.  From the top of the rock, tree roots grew down - at least 30 feet.  I've taken a photo of the roots looking up from the ground as well as one looking down from near the top.  Photos can't capture it, but it was a very cool tree.

Near the tree, on top of the rock, there were some ancient burial caskets.  Bornean Ironwood (a very hard wood) logs were hollowed out, and inside the body was placed along with weapons - the blow dart used for poison dart hunting.  Supposedly the higher the casket was placed the higher in the society a leader was placed.  We saw the remains of one casket on which the carving was still evident, and the tools were still visable inside.  However, the body was no longer there - supposedly the casket rolled down from above at some point and no one knows what happened to the contents.  According to our guide, it would have taken at least 50 men to carry the casket up through the forest to where it had been, the highest point in the forest.  Since it was not an easy climb, I didn't envy that experience.

It was a beautiful place, to live and to die.  Whoever that warrior leader was, long ago, he obviously got quite a sendoff.  I could only imagine the life he led in that forest, as I stood surrounded by trees so old, they might have been already growing when he was alive.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pool of Biting Fish

At the Borneo Rainforest Lodge deep in the rainforest, there is a beautiful pool fed by a waterfall.  It is known as the Jacuzzi Pool and several of the trails from the lodge lead there.  The pool is filled with biting fish, but the bites are supposedly not painful.  A popular treatment in asian spas, the fish, a kind of carp, bite the dead skin off human feet.  I found it hard to believe that anyone would pay to get bitten by fish.  In nature, the experience was free, but I wasn't sure it was one I wanted to have anyway.

One day we went on a long hike to a viewpoint, and given the heat and humidity I was completely drenched.  Although I dreaded the idea of getting back into my sweat soaked clothes, I was hot enough that I decided to brave the fish and swim in the pool.  The water was nice and cool - not very cool - but much cooler than I was.

The fish swarmed me when I stepped into the pool and I was surprised by how much I could feel them biting.  It wasn't really painful but it was like getting pinched pretty hard by small fingers.  My guide told me to keep moving if I didn't want them to bite me.  I swam out to the waterfall to get in deeper water and then kept my arms and legs moving.  This, unfortunately, resulted in me getting bit on the ass.  So I began to try to wiggle that too - and keep all portions of my body moving underwater.  Although the water was cool, all that moving heated me up again, so eventually I decided to get out.  I probably got about a dozen bites in 20 minutes. 

It was a beautiful place to be - biting fish aside.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

View of the Primary Rainforest in Borneo

I will go through a lot to see animals in the wild....but I am not one to want to endure harsh conditions just for a view.  I never want to pass up a chance to see those hard to find animals, and I accept that in order to do so, hiking through leeches, in extreme humidity and heat, in rain, through jungles, up steep slopes, are all required.  When there is an animal at the end, it's all worth it, and I never regret the effort, no matter how many bug bites or thorns I endured, no matter how much sweat it took.  When there is not an animal though - especially on long hikes where there is just not one mammal to be found - although I realize it's a risk you take, I am always disappointed, and the suffering of the hiking and the conditions seems oppressive.  I actually envy - and do not understand - that some people can get to the top of a hike, find no animals, and actually think the view alone is worth it.  That's not how I'm wired I guess.  Yes, there is a nice view - but was it worth what I just went through to see it?  No, my friend, NO, it is not!!!  What's done is done, I usually make the best of it and snap a photo, but photos never begin to capture landscapes in my opinion, so it's nearly pointless except to remind me of the place I was, where I didn't find the animal I was hoping for.

This is a picture taken from a viewpoint I hiked up to in blazing humidity, with an injured foot, hoping to see Bornean Gibbons.  Those elusive, fast moving, loud calling gibbons that I could hear around 4am from the lodge.....I wanted to see them badly enough to undertake the hike even though my foot was killing me.  The humidity and heat, and leech socks and tucked in clothing (trapping more heat, ug!) made sweating a constant, so all my clothing was completely soaked and my backpack was stuck to my back.  I crossed my fingers for Gibbons, scraping the leeches that were crawling up towards me off my walking stick, climbing over roots and slipping on leaves on the forest floor.  And in the end:  I got this photo.  Note the absence of gibbons.  Damn. I look at this and think "This is the place I didn't find gibbons." 

This is a primary growth rainforest in Danum Valley in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo.  It is hot, but it really is beautiful.  The photo doesn't begin to capture the experience.  I would never have make the trek just to see it, but it really was pretty amazing.  Though I didn't see them, I know the gibbons were in that forest somewhere, and so were orangutans and many other species of primates, not to mention the other mammals, the bees and insects, the birds and flowers.  It would be nice to feel an elation or sense of accomplishment or some thrill at finding such a good view, but for some reason, for me personally, those feelings don't come up after a an arduous hike unless there is a mammal, or at least a rare reptile or frog!  If you are one of those people who can actually say (and mean it) "What a great view!" and be happy, enjoy that!  Take some massive hikes and see the world - be glad that it is worth it even if you don't find the gibbons.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tiger Leeches (Terrestrial!)

Leeches that live on land are, fortunately, NOT something I have to deal with in Idaho!  I first learned about them before my trip to Madagascar, but I was lucky enough not to get any of them on me that trip.  I did get some in Australia in the Daintree rainforest, and it was gross.  In Borneo, I did see them - and there were two kinds.  Brown leeches were supposedly on the leaves on the forest floor and "painless," while tiger leeches, pictured here, are on leaves throughout the forest, not just the ground, and supposedly "hurt a little bit."  Luckily, thanks to vigilance, leech socks, extensive shirt tucking and covering of skin (hard to do in the heat) and some pure luck, I didn't get any leeches that attached to me.  I *did* get a few on my hand...because the leeches crawl up the walking stick!  It is creepy to see them on the forest floor straining up towards you as you walk by, looking for a meal.  My guide, Ryan, put this tiger leech on his hand to show how the leech moves on you looking for a good attachment spot - eeeewwww!!!  Something about these critters is just unpleasant!  That being said, I am glad that a fear of leeches does not keep me from going to some of the world's most interesting rainforests.  I will probably find myself in many more leech areas before my life adventure is over....if I'm lucky.

It is interesting how when you or someone in your group gets leeches, you get hypersensitive and every little thing freaks you out as being a leech.  I am sure to live there you have to get over it.  Everytime I found one on my hand I felt like there were more.  For women, there is the additional complication that if you have to, at some point, eliminate all that water you have been drinking while hiking in the humidity, you put delicate parts very near the forest floor, and risk attachments of leeches in areas you dare not dream about!  I met two 80 year old ladies who were birdwatching in Madagascar when they unfortunately got leeches in their private parts, a tale that horrified me so much I vowed to never, ever pee in a forest with terrestrial leeches!  (Men have it so easy on that front!)  This trip, one girl in my group got a leech in her bra and one on her butt.  Ug!!! I know I can't avoid them forever...but I do hope to keep them out of certain areas forever!!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Wild Male Orangutan

Well, though I am a bit bummed that I only saw one wild orangutan, I am thrilled I saw one.  It was very hard to get photos as we were in a boat on a moving river, and it was never still....and these are the best I got.  Orangutan means man of the forest, and this lone male orang certainly seemed like a gentle man of the forest as I watched him having breakfast over the Kinabatangan River.  Most of the time he was facing away from me, but these shots are from the rare 2 minutes he chose to give me a glimpse of his face.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Longtail Macaques

I often saw longtail macaques in Borneo.  Medium sized to small, these playful primates live in family groups.  One night froma  boat on the river we watched a family with many youngsters playing in the trees.  This page shows an adult that is about to lean down and get some fruit on a branch above the water, and a mother and baby.  The mother is about to climb up and is scoping the path, while the baby clings to her.  I saw this species interact with orangutans at the sanctuary, sit near proboscis monkeys without incident, and play with one another with pretty clear joy.  I would guess we ran across them at least a dozen times in 10 days, if not more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monitor Lizards

I saw three or four monitor lizards in Borneo.  One was in a tree, and it came down and wandered across in front of me while I was alone in a wildlife preserve.  The others we saw along the banks of the Kinabatangan river.  These look exactly like Komodo dragons, only smaller.  They clean up anything dead in the rainforest quite quickly as they are effective scavengers.  It is interesting to see their forked tongues and tough, scaly skin.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rhinocerous Hornbill

I am not a birder.  I cannot really understand the checklist approach to wildlife viewing, or enjoying something I have to see through binoculars.  I like that birders support ecotourism and wish them no ill, but I definitely don't like to travel with them!  I was lucky in that this last trip no one was a birder - two people liked birds but they were not obsessive about it!  I do see a lot of birds in my travels, and when there is no mammal to photograph, sometimes I take photos of the birds just for practice.  I saw lots of hornbills in Borneo.  This is a rhinocerous hornbill.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Western Tarsier

I never expected to see the Western Tarsier, as it is very rare, nocturnal, and small - a bad combination for viewing chances.  However, on my last night excursion in Borneo, I lucked out.  A Western Tarsier was on a branch near the road and we were able to view it with flashlights from very close up, for several minutes.  We also got to see it jump - and it has GREAT jumping skills, like a little spring with hands!  This is one cute animal!  The big eyes, the long fingers, the long toes and tail - it is just everything you could want a cute little mammal to be.  It eats mainly insects.  It is considered the Holy Grail of night walks and night drives in Borneo and everyone hopes to see it without expecting to.  One of our night walks, the guide found one, but no one got to see it before it moved off...which was a bummer since we were hiking in the dark, in the jungle, with leeches and snakes, in mud, sweating like crazy...hoping to see some sort of mammal.  It is particularly frustrating to know you JUST missed it!  Surely we could not be lucky enough to get near one twice, so I stopped hoping....only to have an EXCELLENT view of one the last night there!  The beauty of wildlife travel is you just never know what great thing you might see!

Night photography almost never works out for me - I don't have the skill set or the right camera.  Even though these photos are not perfect, I was thrilled to get them so that I have some record of seeing this great creature!  A friend I met on the trip also shared her photos with me, so I credit Melissa with the photo on the left and the one on the right is from my camera.  It is always a challenge in a vehcile that is never quite still, at night, using zoom, and the illumination of a flashlight - to get a good picture!  Hopefully it captures enough of the cuteness for you to get an idea, until of course you go looking for this creature in the jungles of Borneo or Indonesia yourself.  I wish you luck in finding one!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pygmy Elephants


I was lucky enough to see and spend time with some pygmy elephants in Borneo, along the Kinabatangan River.  The first night we were there, we looked for the elephants and could see where they had been - areas of pushed down grass along the river bank, but they did not come out.  We stayed out looking for them until after dark.  The guide and the boatman said they could smell them nearby...and sure enough, we did hear them calling to each other. 

The second night (apparently the elephants typically make their appearance in the evening) we were lucky enough to find the elephants.  My group of 7 people were really interested in wildlife, and everyone was very quiet and patient and so we sat with the elephants and watched them for over an hour.  At one point another boat came by, but most of the time we had them to ourselves, which was great.

I was surprised by many things.  First, they are SO cute because they are SO small compared to the African elephants I have seen!!!  They are about 5 or 6 feet tall.  It is really hard to get a photo with any sense of scale at all.  But, I tried to get the trees and the grass and the elephant in one of these shots for some perspective.  The grass is about 5' tall, that would be my best guess - but it is hard as I was sitting in the boat and not walking through the grass. 

I was also surprised at how close we were to the elephants.  In the water, we were only a few feet from them.  They were tolerant, so they must be reasonably habituated to the boats. 

I saw a baby pygmy elephant playing in the water with obvious pleasure for a very long time.  I was surprised that all of the elephant, even the trunk tip, went underwater.  I was also delighted to see the elephants blowing bubbles in the water, like when kids blow through a straw.

Overall, these elephants looked like mini versions of the elephants I have seen in Africa.  The ears are different, and the fact that these females don't have tusks. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Proboscis Monkeys

Although I did not get any really good photos, I did get to see proboscis monkeys several times in Borneo.  These monkeys have large stomachs as they process poisonous fruits and leaves as ruminants do and they can't tolerate sweet fruits.  The males have very large noses and the females have smaller noses.

These primates were smaller than orangutangs but larger than the other primates we saw there.  For some reason their legs look much more similar to human legs than legs of other primates I've seen.

We were lucky enough to see a few babies, but not lucky enough to get photos.  I've decided this photo is the best one I have of a proboscis.  I always saw them from a boat, they usually moved higher or a bit away when we were near, and as I had to zoom in, there was never a totally still moment to get a great photo.  Ah, but it was nice to see them and watch them anyway!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Borneo: Land of Orangutangs, and much more!

I've wanted to go to Borneo for a long time.  Having seen gorillas and chimps in the wild, I wanted to see oranutangs as well, and Borneo is the best place to do that.  I anticipated it would be a harder trip, so I wanted to do it sooner rather than later...and I recently got to go as a 40th birthday present from my husband!  It was a very good trip and I would like to go back! 

As it turns out, I did not go at the best time to see orangs in the wild because it was "fruiting season," and when fruit is available widely, the animals are widely dispersed and it is harder to see them.  It's also a year when trees that fruit only every few years were fruiting, so that means even more choice for the animals.  I did see a large male in the wild, but only one.  The rest of the orangutangs I saw were in sanctuaries.  The sanctuaries are not like zoos, they are simply protected areas of natural habitat, but they contain feeding platforms and the orangs are given two meals a day on the platforms.  The orangs are orphans which are being rehabilitated, and all of the orangs you can view have been released into the sanctuary and they forage for food naturally, but have the supplement of the feeding platform when they need it.  They are not caged and are free to leave anytime.  As a result, some feedings only one or two young orangutangs may show up, and other times, 10 or more, it all depends on how available food is in the forest.  Whether to appear is completely the orangutangs option, which is nice.  However, I much prefer seeing animals in a completely natural habitat, not habituated to humans, and since I only saw one orangutang under those conditions, I would like to head back sometime, in April when my chances are better for seeing wild animals.

I was a bit concerned about three things this trip - none of which proved to be a real problem.  First, scorpions.  I have heard some stories of people getting stung, and while I generally do not fear snakes when traveling as I know they will move off, I don't know enough about scorpions and I did not want to get a nasty bite in a remote area....but I only saw one, and it was already dead of natural causes. 

I was also concerned with getting terrestrial leeches, which I was told was basically "guaranteed."  They are very plentiful int he forests and there are two kinds - brown leeches and tiger leeches.  While I did encounter leeches, I was lucky enough to get all of them off of me before they attached, so I never had to go through the detaching or bleeding process.  There were a number of close calls - but I made it!  And, the truth is, leeches are a gross out factor not a real danger or health hazard, so even if I got them I would have gotten over it.

The third concern was traveling in a largely Muslim area of the world as an American.  While I personally do not have anything against Muslims, I am well aware that there has been a lot of anti-Muslim hysteria post 9/11 and I could easily see Muslims resenting that view and resenting being blamed for the actions of a few nutball extremists.  Certainly the average Christian does not get blamed for the acts of the extreme right wingers who shoot doctors who perform abortions, yet for some reason, many people blame Muslims for the acts of the extremists who acted on 9/11.  I was angry that two days before my trip the fruitball in Florida was planning the stupendously stupid Koran burning stunt...which though canceled, was yet another insult to Muslims.  In the Bush administration, I had some uncomfortable moments holding the American passport at various checkpoints and I had some concerns about what it would be like to travel in a country that is largely Muslim in this era of fear and prejudice, particularly since I am female and traveling alone.

I had absolutely no problem whatsoever with the Muslim population, and I think any discomfort I had at holding the American passport was largely my own fear and guilt/embarrassment about the actions of other Americans towards non-extreme Muslims.  I did have a strange encounter with a young Muslim couple who wanted to have their photo taken with me (I don't understand why at all, but it was a harmless request and the young woman was so excited about it that I didn't have the heart to refuse her request - spoken in tentative English).  However, that was more amusing than anything else.  I do not envy the Muslim women their headscarves in that super hot climate, and it was definitely different to have everyone at airport security be a Muslim woman in a police uniform with a headscarf, but hey, different is part of the fun of travel.

In the days to come I will put up pictures of the wildlife I saw, with the caveat that the photography conditions were overall not great!  The humidity was near 100%, which can cause fog in the lens.  There were rainstorms, some of which doused the cameras despite my best efforts.  The lighting when we saw animals was often bad, the animals move quickly, and often we were in a boat or on a platform that was constantly moving, causing most of the photos to be out of focus.  I did my best, and hopefully got a few good photos along the way, despite my cameras quitting on me now and then! 

This starter photo is a young orangutan at the Sepilok sanctuary. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Capuchin Monkeys


I glimpsed four species of monkeys in the Amazon in my brief visit there.  Capuchins were one species I had not seen before in the wild...but unfortunately, I did not get to see them very close up or get very good photo opportunities.

All the same, these are the photos I did get to remember these clever little monkeys.  I had fun watching one of them jump up and down on a tree with huge fronds, shaking it at us as we sat in a paddle canoe in the water below. 

The guide mentioned that these monkeys are often trapped and trained to be pickpockets because they are so smart and so quick and dextrous.  How sad.  These monkeys have more than enough challenges without fending off human captivity too.  I am glad I got to see them in the wild where they belong, happy and playful and calling down to me. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Parakeets at a Clay Lick in the Amazon

Hundreds of parakeets use this clay lick on the bank of the Napo River in Ecuador.  These parakeets were visiting the clay lick just a few minutes before one got caught by a boa constrictor, as featured in a previous post.  Once again, tough photo conditions made these the best shots I could get.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Night Monkeys in the Amazon

One new species that I saw for the first time in the Amazon in Ecuador in June was "night monkeys."  I don't know if that is the official name or not, but we were in a small canal and went to the base of their tree at dusk and waited.  Eventually as it darkened four little night monkeys emerged.  I could see by flashlight only that they were smallish, fast moving monkeys.  During the daytime, we came upon another group of them sleeping in the hollow of a tree, and I got some photos - sort of.

I will say the photography was nearly impossible as we were always far from the animals, in a small canoe that was always moving, and trying to zoom in and get clear shot was nearly impossible.  If you look at these closely though (click to enlarge) you can see two moneys (look for eyebrows) in the hollow of the tree in the center.  One is closer, and one is a bit better focus but these are the same monkeys.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Red-Tailed Boa and Parakeet in the Amazon

After Galapagos, I went to the Amazon for just a couple of days to the Napo Wildlife Center.  The center is owned and operated by a tribe of indigenous people who decided to go with eco-tourism rather than sell their land for oil drilling.  Oil was discovered on their land, but the tribe of roughly 180 decided instead to build the lodge and preserve their land.  Thus far, revenue from the lodge has enabled them to hire a doctor and a nurse, build a new school for the village and hire teachers, and employ most of the men in the village. 

To get there, it's a 30 minute flight from Quito, and then about 2.5 hours in a motorized canoe up the Napo river, where there is a nature preserve on one side and oil drilling all over the other side, including burning fires in the forest and vast amounts of road building and other destruction of the rainforest.  Rather disgusting to see.  After the motor canoe, it's another 2 hours in a paddle boat to get to the lodge.

I had hoped that with such a remote location we would see a lot of animals, but the truth is, they are fleeting glimpses.  In this area, there was historically hunting and fishing, which is no longer taking place, but I don't know if the wildlife is still wary due to that.  The animals have a large area in which to disperse and we can only see them from trails or channels on which we take canoes, so the viewing tended to be scant and quick with the animals a bit far away.  Photos were very hard to come by because when you have large magnification and a moving boat and only a few seconds - you get a lot of blur, even with a good camera.  Shots were just VERY hard to come by.

The highlight of the Amazonian wildlife I did see was this red tailed boa constrictor that caught a green headed parakeet that was at a clay lick.  I was in a motorized canoe and the clay lick was packed with birds.  They all took off at once.  It turned out the boa had grabbed a parakeet - and then we watched it consume it and slither off. The snake was big...and I was doing my best to get photos while on the floor of a motorized canoe crouched at the foot of another passenger, balancing my camera, which was zoomed, as best I could.

The first shot shows the parakeet - it was quickly strangled.  The second one shows actual consumption.  This is the first time I have seen a snake in the wild eating anything - and it was hard to see; I would have loved to be able to see it closer or to at least be still instead of rocking around - it made it hard to see well with camera or binoculars.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blue Footed Booby Nest and Eggs

This is a photo of a blue footed booby nest that was basically on one of the trails.  All their nests are on the ground, so it's easy to see why they would be vulnerable to rats or other introduced species!  I thought it was interesting how the ring of bird poop defines the nest. 

Although boobies typically have two eggs, only one survives...the stronger of the two.  I was glad to be there during the season of egg laying vs. hatching for this reason.  Seeing the baby birds that do not make it would have been a tough thing to see.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Frigate Birds

We saw very large frigate birds in the Galapagos, including magnificent frigates with big red pouches inflated to attract females.  On one island, we saw some frigate bird chicks in the nest.  This is a parent and a chick, and then a closer view of the chick.  The chick was just so cute, it looked like a stuffed animal in a toy store...all fuzzy and ready to be taken home.  But, it was obviously alive and being babysat quite well! 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lots of Dolphins!

Sailing between islands in the Galapagos, we encountered whales and dolphins.  I never got a good photo of the whales, but I had a little better luck with the dolphins.  We encountered a school of hundreds of dolphins as they were hunting tuna.  They jumped in groups, and they were swimming very fast.  I think this photo does the best of the ones I have at showing the scale - though of course I have zoomed in enough to tell they are dolphins.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Marine Iguanas, Part I

Marine iguanas are often the poster children of the Galapagos Islands.  They exist no where else in the world.  They are cold blooded, so at night they cluster in groups for body heat.  You find them laying on the black rocks everywhere you go, and at first they are hard to see.  Once you see them, you realize there are hundreds - everywhere!

When their body temperature is high enough, they go into the ocean and dive down for algae that grows on rocks.  They have an ingenious mechanism for processing the salt in the water - they spit it out.  When resting on the beach, all of a sudden one will spew forth a very salty spray out of its nose.

There are also land iguanas in Galapagos, but we'll save those for another day.  I have a zillion marine iguana pics, but here are two where I like the composition of the shot, not just close ups of the iguanas.  There will be more to come though - we saw these creatures every day, on every island.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

White Tipped Reef Shark

I know that many sharks are not to be feared, and I have always wanted to see one snorkeling. I was lucky enough to see this approximately five foot white tipped reef shark while snorkeling, and also lucky enough to get a photo with one of those disposable underwater cameras.  The shark swam under us for a long while, and it was graceful and seemed to be looking for things in the shallower waters.

In the Galapagos, I also saw several Galapagos sharks, but they were circling the boat and I was not in the water with them.  They were large, and gorgeous.  I never did get a photo, but they were really, really neat to see. 

I also saw a giant Eagle Ray - at least 6 feet across.  I watched it move a rock with its nose and look under it on the ocean floor.  It was too deep to get a photo of, and I was surprised how large its head was. 

The snorkeling in Galapagos offered huge numbers of fish, more than I have ever seen elsewhere.  I saw turtles, swam with sea lions every time, and got to see a shark and a ray - doesn't get much better than that!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sea lions, Part II

While snorkeling with the sea lions in Galapagos, they came right up to our masks.  They were very curious about us, and it was so awesome to have a wild animal in its own environment chose to interact - not for food, not for any reason but free choice and natural curiosity.  One touched me with a flipper!  They went by so fast it was very hard to get a photo, and I was using a cheap disposable underwater camera too.  I would have loved to get photos of the young ones playing with sea stars and sea urchins - very much puppies of the sea!!!  But these are at least decent enough shots to remember the experience by.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Waved Albatross

The waved albatross only nests on a single island in the Galapagos and no other place in the world.  We saw them nesting, and also got to see (and hear) their mating dances.  The birds open their beaks and clack, and seem to be engaged not just as couples but with little bands of birds participating or vying for attention.

This endangered, large seabird flies incredible distances, staying out to see months at a time.  Lately there has been an issue with some fishermen in Peru catching them in fishing nets on purpose and consuming them - a problem biologists and the governments involved are working on.  It doesn't apparently bother some to consume endangered species.

It is not hard to see hoe this bird got into trouble.  Breeding on only one island, breeding only every other year, and raising only one young can make for some population limitations.  The birds have a bright yellow beak and a frosted light yellow head.  As with all things in the Galapagos, you can get amazingly close to these birds.  We were within a few feet of several of them, which was quite a privilege.